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Athlete of the Week: Sprinter displays ‘raw talent’

Athlete of the Week: Sprinter displays ‘raw talent’

March 31
22:15 2010

By Eric Johnson / Senior Staff Writer –
A calm washes over Melissa Barnes as she steps into the starting block, whispers a quiet prayer and leaves her opponents in a cloud of dust.

The junior sprinter blistered the track last weekend in her return home to Arlington, earning her first Sun Belt Conference Performer of the Week award.

“I felt so comfortable because I was just out there running in front of my family and friends,” Barnes said. “Being in a familiar environment definitely makes it easier, and I think that we are continuing to prove that we can run with any school.”

(Video by Ryan Bibb / Photographer)

In just her second outdoor meet since transferring from Oklahoma, Barnes took home first place in the 100-meter dash and the 4-by-100-meter relay, leading the UNT women’s track and field team to a first-place finish at the UT-Arlington Bobby Layne Invitational.

“This is the type of performance that we expect of her,” sprint coach Sammy Dabbs said. “She comes from a huge program, so she know that expectations are high, but I think that she will continue to exceed those expectations.”

Born on a cold December day in 1988, Barnes heated the room with her energy from that moment.

“I always say that we were all asleep before Missy, and that she woke us up,” said Melissa Barnes’ mother, Mary Anne. “She would never sit still, and she brought so much excitement into our lives. But we knew we had to find an outlet for all her excess spirit.”

Her rambunctious attitude as a child earned her the nickname Missy, which was given to her by her grandmother because of her tendency to grab the attention of the room.

Missy, as she is still affectionately called by her family and friends, was signed up for several sports in an attempt to calm her excited nature. After trying gymnastics and basketball, a game of tag helped Barnes discover where she really needed to be.

“I realized that I was running, and nobody could catch me,” Missy Barnes said. “I just feel so connected to track, and I feel like I was put here to run.”

The reserved Barnes was an instant leader for Mansfield Timberview High School, and she helped to set the stage during the school’s inaugural season.

“Missy was the beginning of our tradition,” said Timberview head track coach Cinda Baer. “She built the foundation for this program, and throughout her time here she taught the younger girls what it takes to be successful.”

Barnes compiled a list of accomplishments a mile long during her time in high school, winning 2007 Texas Track Athlete of the Year and leading her 4-by-100-relay team to a first-place finish at the U.S. Junior Olympics in the process.

“She just has this raw talent,” said Dabbs, who was a mentor to Barnes during high school. “Once she got that love for track, she was not going to be caught by anyone.”

Her stellar high school career earned her a scholarship to Oklahoma, but after two unhappy years in Norman, Barnes joined the Mean Green in the fall of 2009.

“I have known coach Dabbs forever, so coming to UNT put me back in that familiar environment,” Missy Barnes said. “I have been running all my life, and this is the type of environment that can really pull out all my potential.”

A big smile and a friendly personality helped Barnes fit in with her new teammates.

“She came in with this positive attitude, and everyone was kind of drawn to her right away,” fellow junior sprinter Brittani Simmons said. “It is in my nature to help my teammates feel comfortable, but she is the kind of person who fits in with any group.”

When she is not busy making her teammates laugh with her goofy attitude, Barnes is pushing them, and herself, to their breaking point.

“She is that unspoken leader that makes everyone around her want to work that much harder,” Dabbs said. “Winning is not good enough for her, she wants to prove that she belongs with the best in the country.”

The 21-year-old marketing major has scorched the track during the Mean Green’s two outdoor meets, earning three first-place finishes.

On the eve of the Texas Relays in Austin, the biggest outdoor meet of the season, Barnes remains unfazed by the magnitude of the moment.

“I don’t feel any pressure to perform. I know that I am going to run my best time and that our 4-by-100 relay is going to hit that national mark,” Barnes said. “We are trying to make a name for ourselves, and this is a great opportunity for us.”

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